More than a week had already passed away since Tchichikoff’s arrival in Smolensk, during which time he had continued paying morning visits and attending dinner and evening parties, and in so doing, had spent—as the common phrase goes—his time very pleasantly. At last he determined upon extending his civilities beyond the limits of the town, and resolved to turn his attention to the pressing invitations of the landowners in the vicinity; among whom Maniloff and Sobakevitch were those to whom he had made a formal promise. It is very possible too, that this resolution arose from another, a more positive, a graver motive; perhaps, even an affair of the heart. But of all this the reader may learn more by degrees, and in proper time, if he will only take the trouble, and muster the patience, to read on and follow our traveller on his journeying.
Selifan, the coachman, had received instructions to be ready early in the morning, and to have his horses and the britchka ready to start at a moment’s notice; Petruschka, his servant, was ordered to stay at home, and mind his master’s apartment and his portmanteau. The reader will not deem it superfluous, we hope, to make the distant acquaintance of these two domestics of our hero, whom he was accustomed to call his men or serfs. Although, and of course, they will not have to appear as prominent characters, or even victims of despotism; yet, their denomination of serfs may serve us as an excuse for exciting the curiosity and sympathy of our courteous reader in their behalf, and for placing them among the third, or even second-rate personages, who are to figure in the adventures of our hero Pavel Ivanovitch Tchichikoff.
Although, the plot, or the links that connect the whole, is not especially founded upon them, still, now and then, they will have to appear in order to pull us through this long “chain of events;” besides, as we are in England, we like to be minute in everything, and in this instance, and regardless of our being a Russian, we will do our best, and try to be as particular as an Englishman. In addition, the description will demand but little time and space, for it will not be necessary to add much more to that which the reader already knows; we therefore proceed to state at once that Petruschka was accustomed to wear, and to walk about in a large snuff-coloured coat, formerly cast off from the broad shoulders of his master, and that he had, as is common among persons of his calling, a very large nose and broad lips. As regards his character, he was addicted more to the silent system, than inclined to talkativeness; he had a laudable inclination for general information, i.e. he was fond of reading books, though he did not care much about their contents; it was a matter of perfect indifference to him, whether it was the adventures of an amorous hero, or simply a spelling, or a prayer-book, he read them all with equal attention; if therefore, a grave work on chemistry had been presented to him, he would have accepted it with equal resignation. It was not what he read that pleased him, but more the reading itself, or better said, the process of reading, because from the composition of letters, originate words, which again when spelled have a meaning, which many a poor devil like Petruschka has every difficulty to understand.
He had the habit of going through his reading process, generally in a recumbent position, which he took up in the anteroom, where he used to stretch himself upon his bed and upon a mattress, which, in consequence of the frequent use and this peculiar indulgence of his, had shrunk into a mere nothing in comparison to its original size, and had actually become as thin as a pancake. Besides his passion for reading, he had two more characteristic habits; he liked to sleep without undressing, just as he was, in the same surtout, and conveying with him a je ne sais quoi, an atmosphere of his own, which was not unlike the odour of an over-crowded room, so much so, that it was sufficient for him to put up his bedstead, no matter where, if even in an hitherto uninhabited apartment, and bring into it his cloak and other articles of wardrobe, when suddenly it would seem as the chamber had been occupied for the last ten years.
Tchichikoff had his peculiarities as well, and was in many instances a man of delicate feelings; sometimes, when rising early in the morning, he would inhale the air with his refreshed nostrils, but of a sudden he would sneeze and slowly add: “Well, Petruschka, the devil knows it, you seem to perspire strongly. I only wish you would go and take a warm bath.” To this, Petruschka made no reply, but tried to busy himself immediately with something; or he went with brush in hand to his master’s dress-coat which was hanging over the door, as if to clean it; or would arrange or put some of his effects in order. It is difficult to say what he might be thinking of at this precise moment, when he was thus rebuked and silent; perhaps he thus spoke to himself: “What an original my master is, to be sure, he seems not to be tired of repeating the same observation, fifty times over.” Heaven knows! it is very difficult to tell what a wretched serf thinks at the moment when his lawful master scolds him. However, this is all we have to say at present about Petruschka.
The coachman, Selifan, was quite a different man. However, on second thoughts, we feel rather timid about troubling our reader so much with the affairs of persons of so low a condition, for we know by experience how little inclination there exists to make acquaintance with the lower classes. At any rate that is the case in Russia, where we have ranks of every shade and description, and where a frightful predilection prevails to become acquainted with persons of merely a higher nuance of rank, and a bowing acquaintance with a count or a baron of the Empire, is esteemed but too often more valuable than the most intimate ties of friendship.
And thus passing over the coachman, Selifan, we return to our hero, who having given his orders and already made his preparations on the previous evening, awoke the next morning early, washed himself with a wet sponge from top to toe, an operation which he had a particular habit of performing, usually on a Sunday; the day happening to be the one as well on which he shaved himself carefully and even so minutely, that his cheeks looked as smooth and shiny as satin; he put on his coffee-coloured dress-coat with the gilt brass buttons, and then his travelling cloak with its numerous collars. Thus dressed he descended the staircase, carefully assisted, now on side, now on the other, by the one ever attentive head-waiter, until he took his seat in the britchka.
The travelling carriage drove with great noise from the court-yard into the open street. A passing priest respectfully saluted the traveller, as if giving him his benediction on the road, whilst a few boys in ragged shirts and breeches stretched out their little hands and shouted after him, “Pray, good gentleman, do not forget the wretched orphans.” Selifan, the coachman, observing that one of the little urchins was very expert in throwing somersets, gave him a touch with his whip on passing him, and away went the britchka clattering over the stones.
It is with no little pleasure that a traveller beholds in the distance the painted mile posts, which are the limits of the fatiguing pavement and other annoyances on passing through a town; a little more shaking and jolting about in his carriage and Tchichikoff found himself at last upon a more even and pleasanter road. Scarcely, however, had he left the town at his back when his sight was gratified with, what we term, “rural beauty,” on either side of the road, such as mole-hills, fir-trees, low and stunted shrubs, and pine groves intermixed and surrounded by juniper and other such trees and bushes. Now and then the scene would be enlivened by the sudden appearance of a village laid out in a monotonous-geometrical order, and resembling in its architecture a huge pile of timber covered over with a grey roof, under which the ornamental wood-carvings forcibly reminded one of the embellishments of a Dutch towel.
Here and there a few mouzhiks might be seen yawning as usual, and sitting upon their sheepskins before their houses, whilst the women with their fat bodies and cheeks were peeping out from the windows above; from the lower story of the houses some serious sheep or a sullen pig would exhibit their grave faces. Such are the scenes that present themselves but too often on the high roads of Russia.
After having passed the fifteenth werst, Tchichikoff bethought himself, that it must be about here that, according to the words of Maniloff, his estate and village ought to be found, but after having passed the sixteenth werst-post he still saw nothing of that which was so minutely described to him, and had it not been for two peasants who were just passing, it is very difficult to say whether Tchichikoff would have found the spot or not. Upon the question being put to them, how far it was to the estate called Zamanilovka, the mouzhiks took off their hats, and one of them, being rather more intelligent than his comrade, for he wore his beard in the pointed style, replied, “It is perhaps Manilovka and not Zamanilovka, that your glory wishes to inquire for?”
“Just so, yes, Manilovka!”
“Manilovka! very well, if you drive on a werst farther, you will be there, that is to say, straight on and then to the right.”
“To the right?” now inquired the coachman, in his turn.
“Yes, to the right,” replied the peasant, “that will be your road to Manilovka; as for Zamanilovka, such a village does not exist. It is called so, that is to say, its name is Manilovka, as for Zamanilovka you will not find it; straight on before you, you will perceive upon a hill a house built of stone two stories high, in which lives the master, that is to say the owner of the estate. That then will be Manilovka, but as for Zamanilovka there is no such a place here, and never was.” They now drove off in search of Manilovka. They had already gone two wersts, and came to the turning of a private road; they seemed to have passed two, three and even four wersts more, but still they did not behold the stone building that was to be two stories high. Suddenly, Tchichikoff bethought himself that if a person invites a friend to visit him at his estate, situated about fifteen wersts from town, it usually turns out to be at least thirty wersts distance; at any rate, the situation of Maniloff’s estate seemed at present to be known but to few.
The dwelling-house of Maniloff’s family stood, nevertheless, on a rising hill, quite isolated, that is to say, upon an elevation exposed to all the winds that might be blowing from any quarter; the declivity of the mount upon which the house stood was surrounded by a carefully cut grass-plot, upon which were scattered about a few bushy heaps à l’anglaise, shrubs of lilac and yellow acacias; here and there a group composed of five or six birch trees raised their thin branches and small leaves, thus forming a scanty cupola. From between two such cupolas peered out a pavilion with a flat roof, painted in light green and resting upon wooden columns of a sky-blue colour, with the laconic inscription: “Temple of solitary meditation;” a little lower in the foreground a brook rushed forth noisily from under the green foliage, which is not an uncommon thing in an English garden belonging to a Russian proprietor.
At the foot of the elevation and partly upon its incline, were scattered in the distance and in all directions a number of small grey wooden huts, forming the village; at the sight of these dwellings our hero began—for some reason or other best known to himself—to count them; and on counting their number he found them upwards of two hundred. They were nowhere intersected by trees or shrubs, they presented nothing else but the monstrous appearance of heaps of wood as previously described.
The scene, however, was enlivened by two women, who had tucked up their petticoats in a quite picturesque manner, and fixed them carefully to their sides; they were wading up to their knees through the brook, holding each one end of a ragged net, in which might have been seen a couple of entangled crayfish, and a fat trout; the women seemed to have some dispute, for they appeared quarrelling and scolding one another. In the distance, on the right hand side of the hill, loomed a dull looking fir-tree forest. The weather even, seemed in harmony with the scenery; the day was not exactly a dull one, nor could it be called a bright one, the sky was of a peculiarly greyish tint, not unlike the worn-out cloak of a garrison soldier. To complete the tableau, the cock, the prognosticator of the changes in the weather, even seemed out of tune; regardless of the fact that his head was damaged by the beaks of his fellow-creatures—according to their fashion he was crowing à tue-tête and even clapped his tattered wings against his ragged sides.